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Species360 CEO Blog: The Critical Role of Sharing Data for Conservation and Animal Care

Image of four Przewalski's horses, an iconic species that zoos have helped save from extinction.
Przewalski’s horses are an iconic species that zoos have helped save from extinction. At Species360, we believe data and data sharing are critical to conservation science.

Jim Guenter, Species360 CEO.

As a global non-profit organization, Species360 and our nearly 1,300 members have been collecting and sharing wildlife data since 1974. Since our beginning we’ve seen data and data sharing as a critical enabler, providing necessary knowledge for animal care at our member and partner institutions, and conservation science to fight the extinction crisis.  

Our mission statement emphasizes our role with data: 

To facilitate international collaboration in the collection and sharing of knowledge on animals and their environments for zoos, aquariums and related conservation organizations to serve institutional, regional and global animal management and conservation goals.

In my previous blog post, I shared how the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance is a global coalition of experts, harnessing Species360 members’ data to serve their conservation and animal care goals. And you may have seen the recent news, where researchers from the Conservation Science Alliance used aggregated member data to determine evolutionary aging theories in turtles and tortoises, the results of which were published in one of the world’s leading scientific journals – Science. This is one recent and exciting example of how Species360 members’ data helps contribute to scientific research. 

The majority of this data is collected through the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS). When this system was developed, our team, members, and partners spent thousands of hours crafting data standards and data sharing expectations to ensure our model would:

  1. Work for their institutional record keeping needs, 
  2. Follow expected and necessary protocols for data privacy and security, and
  3. Maximize our members’ and partners’ collaboration, supporting their conservation science, education, and animal care needs. 
A giant Galapagos turtle. Global Species360 member data was recently used to investigate evolutionary aging theories in turtles and tortoises.
Species360 member data contributes to scientific research, enhancing what we know about the animal kingdom. Global member data was recently used to investigate evolutionary aging theories in turtles and tortoises.

Members Own Their Data

It is important to note that our members own their data, as is clearly documented in our publicly available membership agreementOur privacy policy reinforces our approach to data privacy on behalf of our members. If we are ever asked to provide data owned by our members, we direct the request to the member institution. Members trust Species360 to ensure their data is secure, backed up*, and protected.

What Kind of Data is Shared

Species360 members agreed long ago to share data in the best interest of the animals in their care and over time we’ve developed levels of “sharing,” and made this a requirement of membership. As members enter animal data some of that data is shared by default – meaning other members can access that data in ZIMS. For example:

  • The animal’s existence
  • Weights
  • Ownership and physical “moves”, e.g. where did the animal come from and where has it been
  • Birth date
  • Death date
  • Pedigree, both antecedents and descendants

Any animal held in a local-only collection is excluded from sharing. Extensive information on shared data is available in our Global Data Sharing document. 

In some cases, a member may elect to share more, including medical data, either by sharing detailed information about a single animal with another member, or sharing detailed information about all animals of a species.
In a close partnership with Species360 association members the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), we are piloting a data sharing program to enable Veterinary Advisors to view shared medical records for the animals in their program species via ZIMS. Staying true to our membership agreement, participating Species360 member institutions must explicitly opt into this program. We will be sharing much more information on these programs at conferences in the fall of 2022, and through our other communications channels. Once the pilot is complete we hope to roll this service out to other Association Members.

Using Data to Create Global Resources

When enough data is collected on a species to ensure anonymity for our members’ data, Species360 aggregates and analyzes data recorded by our member institutions. This analysis allows us to provide globally unique data resources, via ZIMS and occasionally through partnerships or even publicly, that support animal care and species conservation. These resources include:

A frog is held by a veterinarian and receives an injection.
Species360’s Global Medical Resources provide useful information to advance animal healthcare.

Global Medical Resources:

  • Anesthesia Summaries: The most commonly used injectable protocols for over 1,600 species
  • Drug Usage Extracts: Summaries of drug usage within a taxonomic group
  • Morbidity and Mortality Analysis: Common clinical problems and relevant death information by species.
  • Expected Test Results: Regularly updated calculations to aid with interpretation of laboratory data. Over 13 million standardized test result records generate reference intervals for more than 1,100 species

The Species Knowledge Index:

  • Led by the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance (CSA), the Species Knowledge Index programs reach across disparate global sources to identify and classify demography, genetics, primary biodiversity data, and relevant legislation, for all of our planet’s described species. ZIMS data drives an 800 percent increase in available data across species. Like most CSA projects, the Species Knowledge Index is available publicly.   
Graphs displaying the increase of knowledge about tetrapods is increased by 800% with the addition of ZIMS data.
ZIMS data increases what we know about species by 800%.
Graphs showing life expectancy for cheetahs.
A snapshot of an SRG report showing life expectancy for cheetahs.

Survival, Reproduction, and Growth Reports

  • Drawing upon data recorded and shared by member institutions worldwide, the new reports provide zoos, aquariums, conservation centers, and other wildlife managers with missing information required to predict survival timelines and manage populations of species and subspecies. The reports are available to institutions using ZIMS, and may soon be available to Species360 Research Partners

Species Reports:

  • Such as Species Holdings, the most comprehensive record of wildlife held in animal care, Species Event History that describes the movements of species between institutions, a Population Overview report that describes each population in human care, and a Global Studbook Search that provides details on the over 1,500 species management plans, globally. Species Holdings has been available publicly by request for many years. 

Research Requests

  • The Species360 Research Committee evaluates and recommends action for research requests for ZIMS data, with final approval made by our Board of Trustees. Our intent is to share data as openly as possible in support of animal care and species conservation science while ensuring sound data security and privacy practices.

Over almost 50 years, our members have collected and shared data, creating the world’s largest database of knowledge on wildlife in human care. And the value of that data is truly incredible and it is our responsibility to ensure it is used for good. I look forward to what the future holds, and how we can further support our members’ goals by harnessing the power of that data in ZIMS. 

If you have any questions about your data, please feel free to email us at support@species360.org 

Species360 backs up member data multiple times across two geographically dispersed and highly secure data centers to ensure we protect and never lose our members data, even in the event of a catastrophic failure at one data center.

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